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Guns & Lovers: Two Sides of 50 Cent

By Sean Daly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page C01

When a man gets shot nine times -- and lives! -- it's hard to argue his toughness. And Lord knows, 50 Cent, who today releases "The Massacre," the follow-up to 2003's 11 million-selling "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," is one tough son of a gat.

But when you think of rappers who make you quake and double-take with their rhymes, delivery and sheer presence, you think Biggie, Jay-Z, maybe even Eminem. You don't think Fiddy. A skilled MC, a smooth P.I.M.P., a thug who looks like an ab-ripped male model, 50 Cent is who you want when you're trying to score a hottie in da club.

Rapper 50 Cent, promoting "The Massacre" in Washington last month. (John Harrington)

Of course there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a party rapper. Nelly doesn't seem to have any trouble sleeping at night, does he? Besides, despite his bloodstained rep -- just this week, a member of his crew was shot during a radio promotion, perhaps as part of a feud with rapper and former pal the Game -- the 28-year-old 50 Cent (born Curtis Jackson) has never seemed especially stoked on the ultraviolent cuts. But man oh man, does he kill with sexy stuff. When you sell 11 million copies of your album, you're obviously appealing to more people than just rap fans -- you're seducing moms of rap fans, too. Sure, on "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," the Queens native boasted about "picking out caskets" for his enemies, but there was no denying the album's frisky, hook-driven vibe. For the most part, it wasn't guns that were loaded; it was 50 Cent's fellow revelers, downing bubbly and being charmed by their host.

Unfortunately, on the 21-track, 77-minute "Massacre," a bloated album that iPodders will be able to whittle down to a slammin' 10-track mix, 50's cool, lazy-river rap style is too often used in boringly produced songs about back-alley shootouts and related Scarfacery. There's nothing wrong with a wicked gangsta anthem; it's just that 50 Cent never seems inspired until he has dumped the weaponry and joined the shindig. On the plodding Eminem-produced "I'm Supposed to Die Tonight," 50 unconvincingly raps, "Row row your boat / Your blood forms a stream," and then summons the clankety-clank sound of bullets hitting the hardtop. Gosh, we haven't heard that before. With rote braggadocio of clips and quips, "Gunz Comes Out" squanders a nice loop of what sounds like a brassy Bourbon Street funeral procession. And "My Toy Soldier," featuring a cameo from Tony Yayo, from 50's G-Unit posse, is all about how General 50 trains his friends to kill. Yawn.

Skip the grim liner notes, too, which feature such disturbing glam-snapshots as 50 counting his drug money and weighing a shipment of cocaine, 50 engaged in a drive-by shooting and 50 hovering ghostlike over a hollow-eyed, pipe-clutching addict. That last picture is related to "A Baltimore Love Thing," in which 50 takes on the persona of heroin and raps, "She loves me / She loves me not" over a funked-up sample of the Dells' "I'll Be There Waiting for You." It's not deep. It's creepy.

But so much for the grim; let's get to the good. There are enough instantly catchy songs here to remind you why you were originally seduced by 50 Cent, an engaging, fiendishly creative talent when he wants to be. First single "Candy Shop," which has more saucy innuendo than a Benny Hill skit, is built on a vaguely Middle Eastern keyboard line and a come-on hook moaned by chanteuse Olivia. The snake-charming "Just a Lil Bit" also features 50 browsing for sweets. (Okay, just cause he's in a good mood doesn't mean he's suddenly a feminist, too. 50 likes his ladies in all sorts of uncomfortable positions.)

Dr. Dre, who along with 50 and Eminem is listed as the album's executive producer, oversees the utterly sublime "Outta Control." "I do my thing in the club / Every chance I get I tear it up" may not be the most original chorus, but trust me, you'll be singing this one all year long. Jamie Foxx, dangerously close to sick-of-him status, shows up to sing the falsetto hook on the relatively mushy "Build You Up." Let it be known that 50 Cent, with his cozy tenor, could be a much better singer if he wanted.

Unfortunately, "Outta Control" is followed by "Get in My Car" and "Ski Mask Way," two more flat, boring duds concerned with confirming 50's street cred. He even has the song "Piggy Bank" to answer detractors like Shyne and Nas who consider him soft. That's ridiculous, of course: Catching nine bullets is a pretty convincing measure of your mettle. Heck, 50 could do an album of Celine Dion covers and he'd still be a baaad man. That's why it's so nice to hear the rapper let himself go on the silly dance-floor burner "Disco Inferno." The man just wants to boogie, folks. You got a problem with that?

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